The Holy Parents

Both—one at the oven in the square,
one at the sawhorse—
build from the warm earth,
shaping with calloused hands.

Joseph in the woodshop, 
always a quiet man, now grave
in upturned admiration,
guides the hands of the boy 
(the one who caused such a stir
and set the town fathers talking
and the unwise wives clucking)
bearing the sharp blade over the wood.

The boy says, ‘teach me,’
and the quiet father steps back in fear.

The man has lost a finger in his day—
and almost lost a hand.
There was a Sabbath when the boy
returned from the Rabbi
(the unleavened bread sat cold in the corner).
The father thought to ask the son for healing—
it had been a helpful finger.
But by the time the sun had set,
the father had forgot the need—
and though his faith 
(hidden as it was on the edge of Nazareth)
was firm and sure,
he was a man of simple plans
and could better bear the weight of a cedar branch
than aspire to miracle.

Not so with Mary.
For though she knows the honor of the warmth of wheat,
and though her stitch is short, her soap is strong,
still—she dreams many dreams.
Long nights would she spend at the fireside
with her sleepless son,
singing the Hebrew hymns
and snatching prayers from priests.

And when she sleeps, she mumbles prophecies,
and in her dreams she speaks in tongues.

Joseph sees the years behind 
a long stretch of dusty roads
yawning between Egypt and Bethlehem,
Bethlehem and Nazareth.
He knows the currencies of the Bedouin.
He has learned to find a room
where no room is to find.

Mary recalls the wind in her face
the hot, rich scent of the tents in the Negev.
The songs of the Egyptian nannies
washing their babies in the Nile.
She recalls the scents, the sounds,
every time a far-flung insult catches her ear,
reminding her of the mysterious parentage 
of her mysterious son,
the one she calls in whispers
when sending him to sleep,

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